Take 5: Contract talks, school arrests, questions on lead in CPS water, money woes in community college

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School arrests were down between the 2014 and 2015 school years. In this file photo from last year, Kelvyn Park High School students say they have differing opinions on how the school should deal with drug use.

Photo by Bill Healy

School arrests were down between the 2014 and 2015 school years. In this file photo from last year, Kelvyn Park High School students say they have differing opinions on how the school should deal with drug use.

Arbitration for contract talks. Chicago Public Schools officials made a pitch this week to enter “final and binding interest arbitration” with the union to head off a strike, an approach taken with police and fire unions, which cannot strike because their jobs relate to public safety. “A strike is counterproductive and would only fuel the anti-CPS forces in Springfield,” CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said in his letter.

The Chicago Teachers Union quickly dismissed the request as a “publicity stunt,” but left some wiggle room by saying: “We can’t say we’re interested in this until we know the rules of arbitration and under what terms.”

At a City Club appearance, CTU President Karen Lewis said she didn’t know about the offer until she got calls from the press. “I think we need to just continue [negotiating], we have 26 more days to work something out,” she said.

Lewis used her speech largely to criticize city efforts to privatize school services, including nurses, janitors and building engineers, and to blast Gov. Bruce Rauner—even comparing him to an ISIS terrorist—for cutting services that help the poor, seniors and college students.

Meanwhile, the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board sided with CPS today in a 4-1 vote that allows the district to move forward with its request for an injunction against the union to prevent future strikes over unfair labor practices. Next, the labor board will ask the Attorney General to take the injunction request to a circuit court judge. Separately, the district’s complaint will go through the labor board’s lengthy hearing process, in which a hearing officer or administrative law judge eventually will decide whether the union has to pay fines.

School spending disparities. NPR’s series “School Money” has laid out the per-pupil spending in districts across the nation with an interactive map. In a report released last week, they teamed up with WBEZ to focus on spending disparities between suburban Chicago Ridge, nestled below the city’s South Side, and Rondout in Lake Forest. Chicago Ridge received less than $10,000 per student in 2013, below the national average and far below Rondout’s $28,639.

The gap stems from Illinois’ wildly unequal school funding system, which, as has been repeatedly documented, relies heavily on local tax dollars rather than state aid and shortchanges poorer districts that overwhelmingly enroll black and Latino children.

A recent proposal by State Sen. Andy Manar would change the state’s funding formula to base 80 percent of state aid on a district’s ability to raise local tax revenue, up from the current 40 percent. Previous proposals to equalize school spending have gone nowhere in Springfield.

Meanwhile CPS CEO Forrest Claypool has been working to rally Chicago parents and community members against Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed $74 million in budget cuts to the district. Claypool brought Board of Education and religious leaders to speak to families at Drake Elementary. “CPS has reached a tipping point and the state of Illinois cannot discriminate against our children any longer,” Claypool said.

School arrests down.  Arrests in schools declined 25 percent between the 2014 and 2015 school year, which district officials attribute to a shift toward restorative practices, according to a WBEZ report.

These restorative responses, which include peace circles and peer juries, can help address the root of behavioral issues. Most of the 2,859 school arrests last year were in majority black and Latino schools.

Critics say the decline and the use of new discipline practices is not happening fast enough or on a large enough scale. And meanwhile, over 500 students were arrested for nonviolent offenses, including possession of marijuana and disorderly conduct.

“There’s the letter of the code of conduct and there’s the spirit of the code of conduct. The spirit of the code of conduct says we want all of our young people to be successful,” Jadine Chou, the chief safety and security officer for CPS said to WBEZ. “Charging them for something that’s not technically a criminal act is hurting, not only the young person, but really the mission of what Chicago Public Schools is trying to achieve.”

Money woes for community college. A recent Institute for College Access & Success survey of 12,000 community college students in California found that financial aid for tuition alone is not enough to cover the costs of earning a degree. “At times I consider dropping out of school just to work full time instead,” said one 19-year-old female respondent, who was juggling the costs of books, rent and food while studying as a part-time student.

Many of the students in the survey attended school part time, but would like to be full-time. More than one-third said that the need to work kept them from taking as many credits as they would like to. Two-thirds said that they would take more credits if they had even $3,000 more in grant money.

Though the study was in California, its findings are applicable for City Colleges of Chicago, which has seen a decline in enrollment since last summer’s decision to raise tuition. CCC mostly serves low-income students who have responsibilities outside of school, like their family and a job.

Educators and students alike have been protesting this tuition spike, as well as the city’s consolidation of programs, which forces students to travel to the campus that offers their program instead of the campus nearest their home. “City Colleges of Chicago are supposed to be affordable for the community, and right now, that’s not happening,” said Victor Guzman, a Harold Washington student, at a recent City Colleges forum.

Lead in the water? That’s the question WBEZ asked this week about CPS. The question is still out there, since CPS hasn’t responded. But it’s possible, even probable, since most of Chicago’s water lines are made of lead.

Technically, CPS is under no legal obligation to check for lead. There’s been no federal law requiring it for 20 years. But it is, of course, strongly recommended, as ingesting lead has serious health consequences for children. Other cities across the country, including Detroit, another district on a tight budget, have had their schools checked voluntarily.

The Environmental Protection Agency states in a manual on voluntary testing that  “adverse health effects from lead include reduced IQ and attention span, learning disabilities, poor classroom performance, hyperactivity, behavioral problems, impaired growth, and hearing loss,” with children being particularly susceptible.

New York and Los Angeles, who have also done voluntary testing, have trained janitorial staff for years to flush pipes in the mornings and after weekend and holiday breaks to prevent lead build up from stagnation. When WBEZ asked private contractor Aramark whether a similar policy was in place with their staff, they were directed back to CPS—again with no answers.

Last notes …. Popular and outspoken CPS Principal Troy LaRaviere, a relentless critic of CPS and the mayor’s education policies, has been, according to an email from CPS, “reassigned from his principal duties at James G. Blaine Elementary School effective at the end of the day on April 20, 2016.” It’s unclear whether this will impact his candidacy for president of the Chicago Principals & Administrators Association … Ruiz Principal Dana Butler, who Catalyst profiled back in January, won the Golder Apple Award for Excellence in Leadership last Friday. The award comes from Golden Apple, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting quality educational providers. They also awarded three Chicago high school teachers with the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching: Leo Park, a concert and chamber strings teacher at Northside College Prep, Todd Katz, a biology and environmental science teacher at Whitney Young and Dennis Kass, a sociology teacher at Infinity Math, Science, and Technology High.

  • Concerned Parent

    it will be shown that the removal of Principal LaRaviere is stickily for political reasons. The CPS heads do NOT want him to be the next CPAA president, so they will ruin him and his family instead.

  • Dan Sullivan

    tax funding Chicago Ridge
    Federal 1,500,000.

  • Dan Sullivan

    Tax funding
    Chicago Ridge
    Federal $1,500,000.
    State 7,400,000.
    Local 7,400,000.

    Round Out
    State $ 115,000
    Federal 52,800
    Local 4,632,000

    And this is unfair because the people in Round Out tax themselves to pay for their schools?
    Chicago Ridge gets almost 533 times the amount as Round Out from Federal & State aid.